Category: Travel

Sensational Sweet and Spicy Sambols

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sambol

Being someone who loves a meal with many elements, Sri Lankan food was pretty much my dream come true. Every meal is served with plenty of sides: sauces, chutneys, relishes, and pickles, to make each bite unique and surprising. Sambol is the word for this seemingly endless collection of condiments, and I lost count trying to sample them all in a week.

I believe I mentioned in my previous post about Sri Lanka, how spicy the food is there. Like, blow-your-head-off spicy. And as if the curries themselves weren’t hot enough, the chili-based sambols on the side will certainly commit your taste buds to perplexing levels of pain.

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Pol sambol is the ubiquitous, fiery condiment served at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is probably one of the simplest dishes to make, consisting mainly of chili, shredded coconut, chili, lime, and chili – did I mention the chili? Yea. This mix ranges from very spicy to volcanically hot depending on whose table you’re sitting at.

On the second day of the trip, my tongue seeking refuge in something, dare I say it, borderline bland, I discovered one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted – and it wasn’t bland to say the least, just not sweat-inducing. Seeni sambol, a fragrant, Sri Lankan caramelized onion jam, turned out to be incredible on everything from hoppers to curries, and could turn a pretty plain bowl of red rice into something remarkably special. I became totally obsessed with this sambol and it was the very first thing I attempted to make when I came home. I really cannot tell you enough how awesome this stuff is. Do yourself a favour and make a batch soon!

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The most memorable experience I had in Sri Lanka was learning to cook traditional recipes with two women in the local village. It was likely one of the most eye-opening culinary experiences I’ve ever had – not only learning from such passionate and experienced cooks, but seeing their traditional kitchen, tools, and techniques really inspired me.

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Take their stove, for example. A large clay bench with large mounds molded into it held the earthenware pots in place, and the heat underneath was adjusted by adding more sticks to the fire, or taking them away. Genius. Above the stove was a large wooden wrack to hang beans, seeds, and herbs for fast drying, which I thought was a brilliant way to take advantage of the residual heat. Ingredients were prepped on the floor, since it’s cooler down there, and also nice to sit while you’re working. The knife to cut veggies was actually attached to a stool, and instead of holding the blade, you hold the vegetables and basically drop them on top, slicing them in the air to fall onto a grass mat. The sambol was made by grinding all the ingredients together on a huge flat stone designed specifically for this task, and as such took all of ten seconds to prepare. Spoons were made from dried coconut shells. The plates were made of woven grass, topped with fresh lotus leaves from the nearby creek. The leaves protected the plates from the saucy curries, and when you were finished your meal, you’d discard the leaf into the compost, so that there was literally nothing to wash! I mean.

This day made me take a long hard look at how much stuff I use in the kitchen. Water, electricity, appliances – these women were literally using nothing but things from the earth around them and it made me wonder how we’ve come so far from that connection. Cooking has become so overblown, and it was this experience that reminded me to cook simpler and eat simpler. Get closer to the earth. I don’t have some grand solution, but it’s food for thought.

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I’ll share a few notes on the recipes…
You will likely think I’ve lost my mind when you begin the task of slicing two pounds of onions (#worthit), but I promise you it is the correct amount, and you’ll see that it cooks down to nearly nothing. I tried half this amount my first time and it just simply wasn’t enough. If you’re going to go for this, you may as well make a batch that will last you at least a few meals, right? Fresh curry leaves are a definite preference for this recipe, but I’ve never been able to find them here in Copenhagen so I used dried. They’re not great, but better than nothing. If you don’t want to gnaw on whole spices or curry leaves you can remove them after the seeni sambol is cooked, but it can be a bit of a treasure hunt situation, just sayin’. Once I’ve smashed the cardamom pods, I like to remove the outer skin and just add the inner seeds to the spics mix. I tend to leaves the cloves and curry leaves in since I like those bursts of flavour.

The pol sambol recipe I’ve written here is admittedly, a wimp’s version. I’ll admit that I can only tolerate spice until it begins to overwhelm the other flavours in the food, so mine is strong but still edible on its own. I invite you to go with your instincts on this one and dial up the heat to suit your tastes. If you can find freshly grated coconut (or a fresh coconut that you can grate yourself) by all means use that instead of the desiccated variety! Some versions of pol sambol include curry leaves, but because I only had dried I left them out. If you can find fresh ones, add about a sprig for this recipe, and crush them well before incorporating.

As far as serving these two sensational sambols go, they are pretty much great with All. The. Things. Rice dishes, curries, stews, soups, wraps, sandwiches, salads…I mean it! Once you taste them I’m confident you’ll find infinite uses for them. The first photo is of steamed brown rice and the Kale Mallung recipe that I wrote from the last Sri Lankan post – still a major fav around here. I love this meal for breakfast with a poached egg, lots of seeni sambol and, ahem, lightly sprinkled with the pol sambol.

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A huge thanks to Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts  and Sri Lankan Airlines for making this incredible trip possible!

Show me your sambols on Instagram#MNRsambol

Sri Lankan Beetroot Curry & Kale Mallung

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Beetroot curry

Where do I even begin?

I guess I’ll start by saying that I feel like I am waking up from the most spectacular, flavourful, technicolour dream. Sri Lanka deeply touched me, from its incredible landscape, beautiful people and of course, the food. The food! The food.

When I was first invited by Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts to go on a food tour of Sri Lanka, I was a bit uncertain – to be honest, I didn’t know anyone who had visited Sri Lanka before, and I especially had no idea what the cuisine was like. I assumed that it was probably very much like Indian, but what I discovered is that it has its own totally distinctive flavours and cooking techniques.

Sri Lankan people are very passionate about their food and the culture around it. From my perspective, they seemed especially connected to the earth and the bounty that springs year-round from their incredibly fertile land. Many of the world’s spices are grown on the island, so you can imagine how rich and complex their traditional dishes are. Sri Lankan food is also hot. Like, crazy hot. Chilies play a dominant role in everything from curries to relish and are accompany every meal of the day – even breakfast. An interesting way to start your morning, I might add, is being startled awake by an explosive plate of food. And with coconuts quite literally dripping from the trees everywhere you look, the backbone of many Sri Lankan dishes, both savoury and sweet, is coconut water, milk and flesh. Heavenly. And a welcome antidote to all that chile.

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Rice and curry is a Sri Lankan staple, and in fact the word “food” there is synonymous with this combination. Happily for me, there are countless vegetarian and vegan options to choose from. My favourites were jackfruit curry (mindblowing!), cashew curry (yes, a whole pot of cashews cooked in coconut milk), wingbean curry, mung bean curry, eggplant curry, lentil curry, and pumpkin curry. But my favourite curry of all? Beetroot curry. Surprising, eh? The first time I was offered this dish, I kind of thought that it was an accommodating east-west mashup or something, but no! It’s a thing. And a wildly delicious thing at that. I never imagined combining beets and coconut before, but it works incredibly well. The earthiness of the beets contrasts perfectly with the sweetness of the coconut milk, and the beets are neither crunchy or mushy, but a perfectly balanced succulent-tender texture that pairs so well with rice.

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The other major love affair I had in Sri Lanka was with all the little side dishes that come with the curries themselves: sambol and mallung (or mallum). Sambol is like a relish, typically based on freshly shredded coconut (but not always), with a featured vegetable, along with chilies and lime. Pol sambol (coconut sambol) is ubiquitous and served at every meal I can remember. It varies in spiciness from table to table, but more often than not I couldn’t eat more than a couple teaspoons with my curry – which was already insanely hot enough, thank you.

Mallungs are “green dishes” made with cabbage, kale, broccoli, beans or other leafy veg. These are always cooked without any oil, and instead use just the heat of the pan and a little bit of water to steam the vegetable – a groovy technique in my opinion. Spices are used in mallung as well, and vary from recipe to recipe. They can be served warm or at room temperature, almost like a lightly cooked salad.

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Curry leaves are an essential ingredient in Sri Lankan food. Many people are confused by this name because they associate curry with a spice blend, and assume that curry powder must then come from dried and ground curry leaves. In truth the word curry vaguely refers to a dish prepared with spices, but means very little to Indian or South Asians, where “curries” originate.

Curry powder is largely a Western creation, and should in fact be referred to as masala, meaning a spice mix. Most curries in Sri Lanka rely on whole spices, not ground or pre-mixed ones, so that the cook can balance flavours according to his / her tastes.

Anyway, back to the curry leaves. Small, dark green and glossy, they are deeply aromatic with a distinctive savoury-smoky scent that is difficult to describe. And no, they don’t smell like curry powder – we’ve already established that. They can be difficult to find fresh here in Copenhagen (and I would imagine, many places in the world!), but dried ones are available at most ethnic grocers or specialty shops. With about half the pungency of fresh curry leaves, the dried ones are an okay substitute if that’s all you’ve got, but do try and seek out some fresh ones – you’ll never look back! Plus, if you find them fresh, you can easily freeze them until your next curry.

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It was very difficult to decide what kind of Sri Lankan dish I would post first (oh yea, there’s more to come…) but I chose beetroot curry and kale mallung because they are both relatively seasonal here in Denmark, and because I think that both of these recipes take us out of our comfort zone with familiar veggies, and make use of entirely unique cooking techniques. You’ll find both applications totally surprising, I guarantee that, and I hope that they inspire you to make curry out of things you wouldn’t normally, or try an oil-free, steamy stir-fry. Yum town.

There is so much complexity and diversity to Sri Lankan food and I am forever inspired. I cannot wait to go back to this enchanted island to explore, and eat, once again.

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A huge thanks to Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts  and Sri Lankan Airlines for making this incredible trip possible!

 

The Life Changing Crackers

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The Life Changing Crackers

The funny thing about writing a blog, is that I never know how popular my recipes will be. Often, I think I have a real zinger and no one really seems to appreciate it on the same level as I do. Then I post something rather simple and everyone goes nuts about it. Curious.

You can imagine then, that when I posted The Life Changing Loaf of Bread, how incredibly shocked I was at the response. Although I was pretty confident that I had a winning recipe, I never expected the explosive reaction that it got. After checking up on it today, the post has over 1,200 comments. WHAT?! That is insane. And thank you. I’m so glad it changed your life too.

In the spirit of recipes that shake up our routine, I thought I would introduce you to the very same one all over again. That’s right. The same recipe with a new method to make the most life-changing crackers you have ever tasted.

The Life Changing Crackers

The story goes like this: it was the night before a long trip, and I knew that I needed to make some food to take with me on the journey. I didn’t have a lot on hand, nor did I have a lot of time. Searching through the cupboards I realized I had almost everything to make The Life Changing Loaf of Bread, but because I was traveling with it, I wanted it to be a little more transportation-friendly (nothing like biting into an entire loaf of bread on an airplane to make you look like a total kook). A light bulb moment: what if I made the dough and just flattened it out like a cracker? It was just crazy enough to work! Crispy, crunchy, flaky, seedy, and so tasty, this crispbread that is my new go-to for every meal of the day, and snacking in between.

The wonderful thing about the Life Changing Cracker recipe is that you can customize the flavours by adding different gourmet ingredients. You can take them to sweet or savoury town. You can throw in some superfoods if you like, or just stick to the plain, yet delicious base recipe. I love dividing up the dough and creating multiple kinds of crackers all in the same batch. I made two different versions last time: Rosemary, Garlic & Smoked Sea Salt, and Fig, Anise & Black Pepper. Both were totally delicious and worked well with dips, spreads, and cheese. I also really enjoyed them on their own, totally unadorned. Because I loved these combos so much, I’ll give you the recipes for them below – just remember that they are for half a batch of dough respectively.

The Life Changing Crackers can be made into any shape you like too, so get creative. Use cookie cutters, biscuit cutters, pasta or pastry cutters if you have them. A simple knife works too. And if you like things rustic bake the whole tray until crisp, then break them up in free form pieces before storing them.

The Life Changing Crackers

And to remind you of why this recipe is so awesome and life changing, I repeat: The Life-Changing Crackers are made with whole grain oats (choose gluten-free if necessary), and seeds. They are high in protein and high in fiber. They are completely vegan. Everything gets soaked for optimal nutrition and digestion. They are easy to make, require no special equipment and are pretty darn hard to mess up. Even if you have never made the Life Changing Loaf of Bread before, you’ll be a pro at making these crackers.   

The Life Changing Crackers

 

Show me your crackers on Instagram: #lifechangingcrackers